“Educating to peace is possible”

Wagnsonner (Institut für Religion und Frieden, Vienna) gives topical relevance to the world conflict

Several events have marked the anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand (June 28 1914) that was to spur the outbreak of the First World War a month later (July 28 1914). Commemorative celebrations held in Austria range from dedicated exhibitions and conferences, while also the Pastoral care of the Armed Forces is focusing on the “Great War”. Christian Wagnsonner, Military Ethics, Religion and Violence scholar at the l’Institut für Religion und Frieden (Institute for Religion and Peace – IRF), in Vienna, focused his reflection on peace and on the role of Europe in the promotion of peaceful relations between the nations, starting with the memory of the conflict. Professor, how does Austria experience the anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War? “Conversely from other West European countries, in the historical memory of Austria World War I is not given a prominent role. On the one side this is due to the fact that controversial aspects and reflections mostly regard the second world conflict of the 20th century. On the other, the image of the prevailing Hapsburg monarchy, which is marked by nostalgia and which at times is even kitsch and very appropriate for tourism, clashes with mass war and with the brutality of the First World War. Moreover, many Austrians are no longer able to picture the situation prior to the outbreak of the war: life in a multiethnic Country, that stands among the major European powers, the thrust towards modernization of the early 1920s, the complex structure of alliances along with the enthusiasm for the war that spread to involve a large part of the population…” What should be the role of united Europe on the road towards peace? “If we examine the situation of today it’s hard to imagine in which ways the European Union will develop and whether it will be able to give an important contribution to peace in the future. A part of European populations never fully approved participation in this project, whose support in some countries is decreasing. There are several reasons for this situation that range from the fear of loosing cultural, juridical and political peculiarities or a feeling of being ranked among those disadvantaged by unification – both individually and at national level. In some States this has led to a consistent growth of populist and nationalistic parties. Still, the majority is still in favour of a common Europe. Nonetheless it’s hard to find the right way to bring peoples and States closer to one another. In our own area of action what we can do is to promote mutual encounter and dialogue”. What is the relevance of peace today? And how can the young generations be educated to peace? “The great value of peace has been expressed – a remarkable fact – also on the eve of the outbreak of WWI on the part of the political leaders of all the involved States. However, in practical terms it turned into an accusation to others of having violated peace, or of having deliberately caused a war. At the time, there were many reasons that prevented long-lasting peace, and the same could be said today – after two world wars and the end of the Cold War – given the numerous, ongoing armed conflicts. In my opinion these are not religious or cultural wars. The basic motivations are opposition to repression, the reaffirmation of personal interests, or often the mere quest for power and richness. These conflicts are partly transferred within nationalistic, linguistic, cultural or religious borders, within fragile or defeated countries, whose authorities are unable to contrast tension and clashes. The latter are attentively followed by the international community, but only on rare occasions do they end rapidly”. Why? “It depends on the political and financial conditions of the international community, but often it also depends on the complexity of the situation and on the risks bound to military intervention. Educating to peace is thus one of the most challenging tasks of our society today, that often entails consistent efforts and ambivalent effects. In any case, moral appeals alone are not enough: they are easily dismissed or are met with resistance especially on the part of the youth. For education to peace to be successful the experience of unconditional dedication and love, stable relations in the family and in society are crucial, as well as formation to respect others and broad views, thereby enabling young people to overcome prejudice and political ideologies, and become aware of their common future, of the fragility of human mortality and to recognize the fraternity of humankind”.

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